Richard Powers’ “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance” (1985, Beech Tree) first caught my attention because of the title. Prompted by a 1914 photograph by August Sander of three farmers along a muddy road in Germany, Powers creates a story of their dance, which turns out to be World War I, highlighted by the industrialization of the past century. Their story gets mixed with those of with Henry Ford, Sarah Bernhardt and a modern-day computer expert who is fascinated by the picture and becomes addicted to finding out more about it.
His quest takes the reader on a whirlwind ride through the three farmers’ stint in the military, Ford’s Peace Ship, Bernhardt’s connection to a mysterious redhead, the heir to Ford’s fortune and on into the late 20th century until one wishes one had made a scorecard in the beginning to keep it all straight.
I enjoyed the swirl of activities, the backwards and forwards of time until all time becomes the same. Not a lazy read. Powers’ mind is expansive and one must stay alert or be left behind very quickly. A challenge and a delight!
Patsy Ramberg, White Bear Lake
I give “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of St. James” (by David Downie) a B+, and “Old Rail Fence Corners: The ABCs of Minnesota History” (edited by Lucy L. Morris) an A-. The latter is one of the most interesting first-person narratives of Minnesota history that I have read. Neither book is super “literary,” although they are both redeeming in their own ways.
Matt Dahl, St. Paul
“The Cruelty,” by S. Bergstrom. This thriller is an intriguing, brilliantly written page-turner. Gwendolyn Bloom is 17, independent, intelligent and has traveled the world with her diplomat father. Now, she must use her five languages, physical prowess and wit to find and rescue him from kidnapping mobsters.
“The Cruelty” is a first novel for Bergstrom, who grew up in Minnesota. Given the strength and quality of the writing, I’m sure we will see more.
Dorothy Sunne, Forest Lake
“Enjoy Papa: A Life Remembered,” by Phil Formo, a recently published book about a grandfather emigrating from Norway. It’s filled with immigrant challenges, a mysterious cause of death, the grief of losing two wives and yet the triumph of overcoming these challenges — a great read for a summer day, whether kept in by the rain or enjoying the summer sun.
Helen Gildseth, Duluth
Minnesota author P.S. Duffy’s book “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land,” which came to my attention from a review in your publication, tops my list for a great novel to read this summer. So beautifully written, but also not shirking the grim realities of war, the novel moves back and forth between the lives of a father and son during World War I, and the effect that this forced separation has on their physical and emotional beings. Definitely for lovers of historical fiction, but also for anyone who cares about the workings of the human heart.
Cheryl Kellen, Parkers Prairie
My recommendation for a great summer read is the e-book “Perceval’s Secret,” by C.C. Yager. In 2048 Vienna, Austria, an American conductor defects with a secret that will change his life as well as the world, and he hasn’t a clue about its power. It’s a fast-paced read blending espionage, thriller and mystery in the near future.
Gina Hunter, Minneapolis